Using Anger-Reduction Treatment to Reduce Suicide Risk
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Florida State University

It is well known that suicide is closely linked to depression and feelings of hopelessness, but research has found links between suicide and various other emotions as well. For instance, studies have found that feelings of anger are an important risk factor for suicide, as are hostility and aggression, which are closely linked with anger. Research into the connection between anger and suicide suggests that people who are angry much of the time tend to isolate themselves from others and that they are much more likely than people who are not anger-prone to feel that they are a burden to others and that they do not belong. One study indicated that the relationship between anger and suicide could be accounted for by the increased tendency of anger-prone people to feel that they are a burden to others.

Given the relationship between anger and increased suicide risk, a natural question to ask is whether reducing feelings of anger among those at high risk for suicide could reduce the likelihood that they would attempt to harm themselves. This is the question that Jesse Cougle at Florida State University has set out to answer.

Cougle will be using an Internet-based intervention that has shown promise in reducing anger. It is carried out in eight 15-minute sessions that are delivered completely on line over a period of four weeks. Cougle is recruiting 120 subjects, half of them Veterans and half of them non-military, to take part in the project. They will be recruited online, and the project will include people from all over the country. All of the participants will have greater-than-normal feelings of anger as measured by an anger questionnaire.

Some participants will be given a treatment that Cougle has developed, while others will be given two other types of existing treatments. After the sessions have been completed and then again three and six months after the treatment, the participants will be assessed on their levels of anger and well as on their sense of belonging, their perceived burdensomeness to others, and thoughts of suicide.

Cougle hopes that the anger reduction treatment he has developed will lead to reduced feelings of anger and thoughts of suicide compared to the other interventions. Ideally the improvements will not only be apparent immediately after treatment but will still be present three and six months later.

If the anger reduction treatment is shown to be effective in reducing anger and thoughts of suicide, it could lead to a cost-effective, easy-to-use method for reducing suicide risk. Since the program requires only a couple of hours of lessons carried out over the Internet, it could quickly be put into widespread use for helping the large number of Veterans who report anger-related problems upon returning home from combat.

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